Tanks in Star Wars The Old Republic: more than beef

We have been hearing a lot of stuff about tanks on the SWTOR forums lately. The iconic armored forms of the stormtroopers and Boba Fett come to mind specifically. Hence the focus of Bioware into the Trooper and Bounty Hunter classes. In this installment I will be discussing the Trooper.

We see troopers for the first time in Episode IV. The rebel soldiers who try and defend the Tantive IV from the Devastator’s assault get pwnerized pretty badly by the men in white suits. Yes the men in armor go down fast when shot, but come on! Stormtroopers are not supposed to be heroic, right? They are the BAD GUYS, right? They shoot so badly they became a mythos all their own. Who hasn’t heard of the Imperial Stormtrooper marksmanship academy? The one place in the galaxy where the only one who is safe is the target? They get killed when people miss them, one bangs his head on a low beam… the list goes on and on. They are NOT heroic. It only gets worse for the poor troopers as the movie progresses, an entire platoon getting chased by a lone smuggler, getting outfoxed by an old man in a brown robe, yeesh…

Then we get Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The Imperials utterly devastate the Rebel base on Hoth, but somehow manage NOT to capture any of the big shots they were aiming for in the first place. Oops. And then to add more insult, in Episode VI who beats the Stormtroopers? An entire legion of troops gets pwned by a small band of commandos, a Wookiee and a bunch of Ewoks. Sigh. It just doesn’t pay to be an elite soldier in Star Wars, does it?

Now before anyone starts screaming about me not defending the stormtroopers – I do. They get a bad rap. When they are facing the heroes of the movies, of COURSE they are going to lose. It would not be a good story otherwise – but let’s look at it objectively. What are Stormtroopers for? They are there for the heroes to show up, outmaneuver or out-fight. Troopers are not heroic in the original trilogy. Even the Rebel troops on Hoth and Endor were there to put emphasis on the hero’s actions, not to actually do anything else.

Then we see Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which showed a very different kind of trooper from the Stormtroopers that we all knew and laughed at. These guys actually had a clue. They actually hit what they aimed at, and when they did, they devastated it. Games like Republic Commando showed a very gritty take on what it was to be a single cog in a huge military machine. I am not going to go into the stuff from the Clone Wars series because I don’t watch it. We all know what happened in Episode III. Most of the Jedi Order were taken down by troopers when Order 66 was given. Was it easy? No. Did a lot of the troops die doing it? Yes. The ones facing Ki Al Mundi lost a bunch of men when he deflected their fire but they took him down in the end. It was a major cinematic moment in Star Wars and it was the troopers who did most of it.

So… Heroic troopers. Special Forces like Delta Squad from Republic Commando are much easier to sympathize with than TK421 ever was. They have personality. Scorch in particular still cracks me up when I hear some of his one-liners, even today. We never see their faces, all we see are their personalized helmets. But it doesn’t matter. We remember them. We remember Sev counting his kills. We remember Scorch saying ‘You want a big crater or a small one?’. We remember Boss saying to a Trandoshan that tried to ambush him ‘You lizards need to realize that I am a lot more scary than you.’

Speaking of scary, we had seen Kyle Katarn be scary and epic in the original Dark Forces, but then we found out that he was a Jedi. Er, sort of a Jedi. He was a lot better as a mercenary than as a Jedi in my opinion, but that is just me. The novelizations of the game absolutely rocked. ‘Soldier For The Empire’ should be required reading for anyone who plays anything Star Wars. The later games were good, no question, but the best was when he was a not-so-common soldier.

In the book Allegiance, by Timothy Zahn, we see Stormtroopers as they were intended. Elite troops. Not gods, but very, very good at what they do. They are not supposed to be common soldiers, so when the heroes beat them, it is supposed to be hard. Not ‘Oh another squad of stormtroopers, I will use my left hand this time, it will be more of a challenge.’ He makes that part of the book believable. The rest was good, but not great. The stormtrooper parts though, ROCKED.

The trooper in Star Wars the Old Republic seem to be taking a similar approach. These are not cannon fodder. These are not people who die from near misses. These are beings who can wade into the thickest fighting and stand there while the bad guys throw everything they have at them. Beings who can unleash hell on their foes while taking the best the enemy can throw at them and laughing at it. Characters who can take and hold an enemy’s attention so that the squishy beings around them don’t. They are tanks.

Tanks in real life are mobile, they are offensive and defensive weapons. They can take punishment while dishing it out. Tanks in games are usually grouped into two general kinds. The uber-tank, like the Tanker from City of Heroes, who just takes the punishment so that others don’t have to. I have seen a tanker stand off Lord Recluse, all by herself, for ten minutes. She just stood there, taking the hits while the group respawned. Then there is the DPS tank who can take some punishment, while dishing out punishment as well. This is actually more like the soldier Shepard from Mass Effect 1 and 2. That character could take damage, but oh man could that character dish it out as well. The commando from Tabula Rasa, for those of us who played it, went this route. Heavy armor, insane amounts of damage done, often in area effect.

That seems to be what Bioware is shooting for in this MMO. Heavy armor, heavy weapons and lots and lots of ammo expended. Sounds like fun.

Over to you. Do you want to give troopers as envisioned by Bioware a try?

Photo courtesy of: http://www.swtoronlineguide.com

Do We Get Rolled By Character Roles?

Lots of people from all over the place seem to be getting upset about the fact that Bioware ‘seems’ to have followed the pattern many other MMORPGs have over the years. It’s called the holy trinity: healer, tank and damage dealer.

What is wrong with that? For a character to be a jack of all trades usually makes them a master of none. When a person focuses on a certain discipline, it does not necessarily make them utterly useless at anything else.  Case in point: If a person focuses on healing, does that mean he or she can do no damage at all? I don’t know about you, but I loved being a medic in Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. The shock pads in BF2 were a NICE weapon for up close and personal. One solid shot was almost always a kill. Not to mention, they were quiet. You could sneak in and do a god-awful amount of damage before you were detected.

Let’s take a closer look at Healer, Tank and DPS (damage per second). That is:

– a character specialized only to heal other characters.
– a character designed from the ground up to take damage and hold the enemy’s attention.
– a character designed to actually do lots of damage. 

The whole point is that the tank gets and holds the enemy’s attention. Whether this is a mob of bad guys or one uberly powerful boss, it makes little difference. As soon as the tank holds the attention, the ‘aggro’ in MMO parlance, he will start to take damage. Enter the healer, who keeps the tank on his or her feet and holding the enemy attention. Then the DPSer sneaks around and where possible goes for the throat of the enemy. The reason this combination it is so common is because it works. And not just in games.

What many people do not realize is that there is nothing at all new about these tactics. As far back as the Mongol conquests of much of Europe, these tactics were well known and in general practice. Not just with the Mongols, although they did use them well. Now the healing part is a bit different from historical fighting since no one that we know of had magic to heal their soldiers with at the time, but everything else is the same. You have a tank, someone heavily armored or otherwise protected who can take punishment, get the enemy’s attention and hold it while another force sneaks around to deliver a killing blow. These damaging or killing forces were usually lightly armored, and as fast as people could make them. The whole point was not to fight, but to win. And the easiest way to win? Make sure that no one on the other side survives. Not nice, but hey, all is fair in love and war, right?

But now we get into games. Ever since EverQuest, players have been clamoring for something different, something that did not force them into cookie cutter roles. Now, I never played EverQuest, but I did play World of Warcraft, until I woke up anyway. I almost always played a tank. Occasionally, I played a healer. But to do DPS in those kinds of games, you really need to have better reflexes than I possess. You also have to be willing to get killed a whole lot. In most games, there are tradeoffs. DPS characters do a god-awful amount of damage, but they can’t take it well. Lightly armored characters such as mages and rogues don’t usually deal well with battleaxes swinging at them. Tanks do not do a lot of damage when they fight, but they can take it like nobody’s business. Hitting a tank is easy. Hurting one? Not so easy. And healers… Well… depending on what specialization you chose for your healer you either are immortal, as in nothing in the game can do enough damage to overwhelm your healing, or you are made of glass and depend on everyone else to do everything for you while you keep THEM standing. And pray that nothing bad notices you while you are doing it. Nothing worse than being a healer specced character and all of the sudden, everyone runs off somewhere and leaves you to see that ominous twist of smoke start pouring out of the dragon’s nostrils. AHHHH!!!!! Run AWAY!

So… what do we see in Star Wars: The Old Republic? Not a lot so far. In the E3 group video, we see the Jedi consular character healing while the trooper gets and holds the attention of that big droid. The Jedi Knight and the smuggler work on crowd control, keeping all of the other enemies from attacking while the trooper unleashes hell on that droid. It is very interesting to see the trooper specced as a ranged tank. Tanks don’t usually go that way in video games. Of course tanks in real life are another matter.  Heavy armor, big gun and mucho mobility. Sound familiar? The problem with a tank in real life is similar to the problems for tanks in games. Unsupported, tanks in the real world are easy prey for infantry, mines or artillery. In most games, if a tank does not have some means of damage mitigation, or someone healing him, his lifespan is measured in minutes, if not seconds.

Oh sure, Kick in the door and run into a room filled with bad guys. All of whom are now pointing blasters at… Um… Does this sound like a good plan?

Not to me. I am really looking forward to playing this game, especially after the MAJOR shot in the arm for Trooper esteem everywhere that premiered at E3 this year. I want heavy armor, a big gun and lots and lots of bad guys in front of me. I can and have played as part of a team, and I look forward to seeing what interesting twists Bioware comes up with for this game. And if I have to group to do some content? I have no problem with that. As long as the group isn’t composed of Leroys. And even if it is, well, we will go out with a BIG bang.

Over to you. What roles would you want to see? What roles would you not want to see?